July 30, 2010
Incremental Sanity in ActionThe outcome of the process that began with the passage of California’s Proposition 215 in 1996 has yet to be decided. Barry McCaffrey, then Clinton’s drug czar, couldn’t even wait for 1996 to end before threatening the license of any California doctor for simply discussing the therapeutic use of marijuana with a patient. Fortunately, the Ninth Circuit ruled that a violation of free speech and the Clinton Administration elected not to appeal.
The presence of Proposition 19 on this year’s ballot is evidence that considerable progress has been made since then; however several related questions have remained unanswered over the past 14 years and more will be raised no matter how the vote goes in November
If Proposition 19 is defeated, federal law will remain unchanged, but the margin of victory will be of great interest to both sides, neither of which seems to have learned much in 14 years. Ironically that same interval- from 1919 to 1933- had been all that was required to bring about the demise of Prohibition.
Since 2001, the most obvious lesson of Proposition 215 seems be one that both the political supporters and opponents of cannabis have enormous difficulty acknowledging: its market is much larger than most had imagined and is still growing. Ironically (there’s that word again) the reason neither side wants to cop to the size of the pot market is that it requires a contradiction of claims each made in the past: the narcs have claimed to be “winning” the war on drugs, while stoners have claimed to be “recreational” users simply exercising free choice.
The truth, both simple and yet more complex than the medically uninformed claims of the opposing sides, is that a significant fraction, generally over 50%, of the population born since the end of World war Two has been trying inhaled cannabis as part of their adolescent rites of passage and a smaller, but still significant, minority have been using it- often for long intervals- because it's safer and more effective than competing “legal” products.
In other words, federal claims that herbal cannabis can’t be medicine are baseless and have done enormous medical and financial damage to our social structure. That such would be difficult for any bureaucracy to admit goes without saying; however a small beginning may have just been made in the form of letters from obscure VA functionaries in response to queries from a veterans' group.
This could be the first crack in the dam that’s been holding back the truth since 1968.
July 29, 2010
A Throwback to Harry AnslingerJoe Arpaio, Sheriff of Maricopa County (Phoenix) is a miserable human being, one of those people whose need for the limelight and bad behavior combine to become a litmus test of character. While I may neither like nor admire all "Sheriff Joe's" many detractors, I can be reasonably sure I wouldn’t have much in common with his admirers.
He and I do have a few things in common however: we were both born in 1932 and went to work for the federal government in the Fifties. I spent thirteen years- from 1958 on- as a US Army doctor until my disgust for Nixon and the war in Vietnam induced my departure, while Joe served as an enlisted MP between 1950 and 1954, before reentering federal service with Harry Ansliger's FBN in 1957 after a short stint as a civilian cop. He then survived the transformation of the FBN into the DEA before retiring in Phoenix 1992 and running successfully for Sheriff of Maricopa County, an office he has retained tenaciously ever since despite multiple law suits, court orders, and an unequivocal public record of abusing both the powers of his office and the hapless prisoners in his custody.
As luck would have it, the present anomalous situation in Arizona guarantees Joe a place in the limelight for as long as his health permits and his constituents will tolerate his irresponsible antics.
July 28, 2010
Missing the Importance of Whistle BlowersThat there would be more immediate interest in identifying and punishing the “leaker” who supplied Wikileaks with an enormous volume of classified documents than in the significance of the documents themselves should probably not surprise us, even with the recent example of the Pentagon Papers deliberately leaked to the New York Times by Daniel Ellsberg.
What the Pentagon Papers established beyond any doubt was that the Viet Nam War had been a thoroughly dishonest federal enterprise from the beginning; one of the most important effects of Ellsberg’s disclosure was that the feckless war to “save” South Vietnam from Communism (a war already being abandoned by Nixon) lost all credibility.
Although the wars we are now fighting in South Asia had quite different justifications when launched by the Bush-Cheney Administration in 2001, they were equally dishonest from the outset and have evolved into hopeless failures for exactly the same reasons as Vietnam: a foreign army of occupation actively engaged in killing civilians faces an almost insurmountable task in trying to convince citizens of the occupied lands to accept their presence.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks were crimes; they should have been treated as such and any military operation limited to apprehending Bin Laden and his accomplices. Once he’d been allowed to evade capture at Tora Bora, all plausibility for an American presence was lost. It’s especially ironic that Tora Bora was terminated because the Americans were then so preoccupied with the upcoming invasion of Iraq.
Sadly, George Bush was not the first, nor even the only, American President to be snookered into an avoidable war, nor was Richard Nixon the only one to prolong one by escalating attacks on civilians.
July 25, 2010
Birds of a Feather (Political)As the Shirley Sherrod story began unfolding earlier in the week, I resisted the temptation to comment. For one thing, I was too busy; for another, it just seemed too bizarre: a highly unlikely scenario in which some of the usual suspects on the far Right had become ensnared in their own clumsy trap, an attempted smear of a mid-level black female bureaucrat as "racist" without checking the most basic facts: the incident upon which the claim was based was over twenty years old and had been not only misrepresented, but also lifted out of context by someone with a history of similar dirty tricks. Nevertheless, the “story” broke on Tuesday amidst an obviously coordinated flurry of excited announcements from the Limbaugh/O'Reilly/Beck chorus.
It should have reminded others like myself who are old enough and still possessed of the requisite long term memory of Joe McCarthy’s desperate attempt to smear Army dentist Irving Peress just before the Senate hearings that brought the Wisconsin senator's noxious influence to an abrupt end in 1954.
Of course, the Guilt-by-Association similarity doesn’t end there; despite McCarthy’s public exposure as an incompetent alcoholic bully and his shockingly sudden death from liver failure at the ripe old age of 48, many still see him- not as a pathetic drunk and liar- but as a genuine American hero unfairly smeared by his political enemies.
That one of them is Cliff Kincaid, I regard as ample confirmation that my analysis is correct.
July 24, 2010
First Exploitation, then Hope?As the human population of Planet Earth has increased to unprecedented levels, so have its demands on the environment. Thus meeting those demands for the entire species has gradually become humanity's major source of wealth and one of its more significant existential threats. Seen in that context, the greater the human population, the more money could be made from exploiting humans through various forms of slavery and the manipulation of essential markets.
Unfortunately, there are limits. Only recently have we learned that although different populations have different ecological footprints: the resources required to meet aggregate human needs in terms of energy, fresh water, and a growing list of resources extracted from the earth (and its oceans) have their own limits. The major factor both driving and meeting human needs over the past five centuries has become the increasing efficiency of the technology enabled by Empirical Science; particularly after the Industrial Revolution began a little over two hundred years ago.
All of which heightens the critical importance of government decisions in establishing rules; not only for populations under their direct control, but also affecting smaller, weaker nations either directly or indirectly. Given the spectacular increase in human population just since the Industrial Revolution began, one does not have to be a genius to understand that humanity is in a crisis it's still unable to recognize; one for which the old ways are proving (and will probably remain) completely inadequate.
Given that our species is the only one capable of our degree of cognition, it follows that aside from some uncontrollable catastrophe such as an impact or a seismic event, the greatest threat to human welfare is human cognitive activity.
Perhaps the best we can hope for is that the forced reduction in our numbers that now appears inevitable will leave an optimum number of survivors with enough residual technology for a fresh start.
July 22, 2010
Compensation, Decompensation, and AwarenessThe first two words in the title have specific meanings which are quite different when used in Medicine as opposed to ordinary speech. Medically, they refer to a phenomenon in which mild or moderately impaired function of an organ or organ system may be made up for temporarily by compensatory change. However, there is usually a price to pay; if the impairment is mild enough, it may only become apparent with increased activity. For example, when a young, otherwise healthy, cigarette smoking golfer plays a round on a hilly course instead of his usual flat one. Even then, he may relate early shortness of breath to a cold he just got over, rather than to cigarettes.
However, as time goes by smoking will induce changes in his airways: chronic bronchitis with cough and sputum along with changes in his body habitus that may remain unnoticed by him and family members who see him every day, but would immediately be recognized by most medical chest specialists as early COPD: reduced muscle mass, overinflated lungs, a wet cough. More subtle signs may follow: ending most coughs with a soft laugh, the avoidance of exercise; or purchase of a golf cart, for example.
These changes and the speed with which they develop will also depend on his genome and the numbers of cigarettes smoked, but they will be ultimately be found to some degree in a majority of regular smokers and when compensation fails (decompensation), it may be either rapidly or slowly: as with a sudden fatal heart attack or a lingering dependency on others.
All of which explains why laws punishing use of a safe herbal remedy that regularly diminishes alcohol and cigarette use by its chronic users has been a terrible public policy and those guilty of supporting it for years are either fools or scoundrels.
But don't expect them to admit that; it wouldn't be consistent with their human nature.
July 19, 2010
Mark Kleiman still doesn’t get itA recent entry described how UCLA Public Policy Professor Mark Kleiman and I have been interacting negatively since 1996 over our differences on drug policy. Because I'd identified him as one of Academia's more important supporters of the drug war, I'd recently started sending him blog entries hoping to provoke a discussion. Instead, he responded with an angry demand that I stop, which I agreed to do; still not knowing if he'd ever bothered to read what I'd sent him.
I had an answer of sorts when his dismissive put-down of Proposition 19 appeared in the LAT. It also confirmed what I'd long suspected: Kleiman relies heavily on NIDA propaganda for both facts and assumptions about cannabis prohibition, a dangerous stance for a policy maven focused on a policy based almost entirely on Harry Anslinger's imagination and nearly bereft of unbiased clinical confirmation. It's a particularly vulnerable position for a policy wonk because, starting with Urban VII and Galileo, some of Science's most important revelations have started with observations that challenged long-accepted false assumptions.
It's especially ironic because a paper Kleiman had written with Rick Doblin may have provided the impetus required to get "medical marijuana" on California's ballot in 1996.
I've also been one of the "recommendationists” he sneers at, but If he'd taken the trouble to read the material I sent him, he'd have learned that data supplied by the applicants I've studied challenges NIDA and DEA dogma in very fundamental ways.
Beyond uncovering several unexpected and/or under-appreciated medical benefits experienced by cannabis users, the study also revealed that some of the most critical assumptions made on behalf of the drug war are seriously off the mark and go a long way towards explaining its perennial failure to “control” pot use.
As noted only yesterday, it doesn't matter that the data may not be believed immediately; only that the false assumption is challenged. In this case, time is also on the side of pot smokers because their large numbers, still unsuspected by the establishment, will start becoming more obvious as more Baby Boomers reach Medicare age, starting next year.
July 18, 2010
Disasters, Databases, & Stubborn BeliefsIn today's United States, most investigations of major accidents and natural disasters are eventually made public. As computer technology has evolved, such investigations have become increasingly dependent on relational databases into which pertinent items of information (data) are entered, thus automatically arranging important events along a time-line and clarifying their relationship to each other while calling attention to possible additional areas of importance. In fact, the contributions of databases to empirical Science have been a major factor in the recent acceleration of scientific progress. Unfortunately, control over just how that progress is employed has remained with the same old fallible human institutions as before.
Also unfortunately; any public policy based on creation of illegal markets is nearly impossible to study with database technology because of intrinsic human dishonesty. In essence, such laws render all data about illegal commerce immediately unreliable; whether generated by market participants or, as is now painfully obvious, by involved government entities.
So obvious has been the tendency of humans to take advantage of the opportunities for exploitation offered by any public policy of prohibition that a key modern implication: namely that there is enough difference between the rapid failure of America's experiment with alcohol "Prohibition" and the more protracted failure of its contemporary Drug "Control" Policy to justify its continued enforcement as a "war" on drugs. In other words, there's an assumption that we have nothing to learn from the past because Al Capone and his rivals were merely fighting to control alcohol, while murderous Mexican cartels are struggling for a drug monopoly.
That distinction is now so painfully unrealistic as to represent an indictment of the conceptual human thinking that still supports it. Since that includes all branches of the US federal government and most state bureaucracies; to say nothing of the nations bound by UN treaty, I don't expect much public agreement with my heretical conclusions and have long since abandoned any notion that such a huge error as the drug war can be corrected rapidly. The baggage of the past is simply too heavy.
However, I have gained some perverse pleasure from pointing out the errors of our ruinously destructive drug policy while legally gathering data from its victims. As I've learned from them, I've also derived satisfaction from helping pot users understand why they have found their use of cannabis helpful; which is why I intend to continue gathering their data and commenting on related events for as long as possible.
July 16, 2010
Mid-July ReportThe runaway gusher in the Gulf finally seems at least temporarily tamed by its new cap and the striking visual contrast between the old futility and the new calm have endured overnight. It’s still too early to know if the Obama Presidency or the economy of the Gulf Coast have been saved, but at least each has a chance at survival that certainly would have been denied to both if the ninety day mark had passed with no end in sight. Such is the reality of today’s constantly changing Brave New World as it struggles to keep up with the demands of its burdensome human population.
What we seem unable to grasp as a species is that our collective security depends on belief; not in a deity, but in the integrity of the global economy. If, at any given time, a critical fraction of humans doesn’t remain at least nominally obedient to local rules, the system may not function. If too many nations were to go rogue at once economic recovery could become impossible.
There is little doubt the human population has increased enough to stress the carrying capacity of the planet, even as Science has been revealing new existential risks a majority of humans are clearly unable to understand; let alone admit.
On a more mundane level, an historic opportunity for symbolic rejection of an inane federal policy is only a few months off in California amidst increasing evidence of great anticipation by some and continued willful ignorance by others; all very reminiscent of 1996, but with even higher stakes.
July 04, 2010
Happy Birthday?July Fourth, 1776 was the day the 2nd Continental Congress approved the text of Jefferson’s famous essay as its official explanation of an action they had taken on July 2nd: treason, (at least in the eyes of the British) by their rejection of the authority of King Gerge III over his American colonies. Be that as it may, the Fourth of July has been celebrated as our national birthday almost from the beginning. Among many other overlooked details, the Fourth also commemorates our first two wars as a nation: both fought against Great Britain, then the strongest military power on Earth.
The first was our Revolution; it gained freedom from the Crown and also marked the historical beginning of the end of the Divine Right of Kings as a plausible theory of government. The second, The War of 1812, matched the same two antagonists three decade later in a war neither side was prepared for. The Americans, goaded by British insults and provocations, but also seeking territory in Canada, foolishly risked their national existence, but were ultimately able to win enough key battles to claim victory. That "victory," coming on the heels of a windfall acquisition from France, also allowed the fledgling nation to pursue its hypocritical development of chattel slavery while taking its first halting steps toward ultimately replacing Britain as the World’s dominant colonial power.
Ironically and unhappily, an accidental catastrophe sustained by a British oil company just off shore from New Orleans may have exacted the vengeance an equally vengeful Andrew Jackson had denied the proud British Conquerors of Napoleon just under two centuries ago.
July 01, 2010
Selective AnalysisThis morning, I just happened to catch a jaw-dropping analysis on Fox News. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan conducted an informal seminar for a bevy of respectful Wall Street analysts who were permitted to question him on the severity of our current economic woes. What was ominous was his occasional use of the term “deflation” (because it characterizes depressions); what was truly amazing was his soft shoe dance around any possibility that rampant dishonesty and theft on Wall Street, had been either assisted by complicit “regulation” or played a significant, let alone dominant, role.
What the brief exercise did for me was to update my insights into the problem I’ve been struggling with for the last few years: a coherent understanding of the various mechanisms by which we humans have created the present mess. Clearly denial has been a pivotal factor. To that must be added omission, or what is not reported by media. Greenspan’s apparently erudite analysis, was almost exclusively in economic terms. Although he touched on other factors like “culture,” he didn’t do so in any meaningful way and almost completely ignored the political dishonesty that had permitted theft of billions under cover of a “just” (but avoidable) war.
Clearly, recognized "experts” like Greenspan find it easier to get away with such highly selective analysis; especially if they take pains to limit their remarks to their acknowledged areas of expertise.
It was a masterful performance by an an old pro before a friendly audience.